Description: After beating a retreat from one trap, Jeremiah Graves finds himself in another of an altogether different variety, stranding him on the edge of a Louisiana swamp. His frustration draws the attention of one of the bayou's more unusual denizens.
Note to self: Don't visit Louisiana ever again. It all started a week ago, when the gunslinger was invited to take place in a 'contest of speed', a miniature tournament by some rich fella who'd seen his last SNF fight. Jeremiah's gut had been telling him no, but the man was promising a lot of money, and living in Japan, it turned out, was pretty damn expensive. So he'd come over, and discovered that the 'friendly contest' was essentially a quickdraw tournament. Men with guns, two or three Japanese fellas with katanas, and at least one weirdo who threw knives. And every single contest was, it turned out, to the death. The fact that the gunslinger was even alive should have been a clue as to the state of the other 'contestants'.
Except, turns out he was never supposed to leave with his life, in case he decided to identify and incriminate the bastard who put it all together. So, Jeremiah Graves shot his way out, grabbed an old pick-up truck and was speeding down a backroad towards...something. An airport, a ferry, even just the state lines, he didn't give a damn! But fate had other plans, and it was for this reason why the gunslinger was, instead, out of the truck, standing ankle-deep in sludge and looking at the partially sunken front tires of his getaway vehicle. The headlights were still on, and the driver's door was wide open, the soft interior light, warning beeping and the faraway gospel station all combining to possibly, draw a fair bit of attention to the scene in question. And for Jeremiah's part, he was looking at this situation with his hands on his hips, shaking his head angrily.
"God...dammit! Sonuva bitch, where'd this marsh even come from? Road just up an' brought me here, this is some bullshit!"
The girl once known as Emma-Jean Lewis (who has long since taken to being called Lump) crouches down in waist-deep swamp water, rubbing her slick hands together in anticipation and preparation. Mud runs over every inch of her; for all appearances, she's been rolling in the bog for hours. In truth, she's only in her natural state. One hand dips down into the water, slipping unseen in the viscous marsh before plunging carefully into a catfish hole. Her tongue slips out of the corner of her mouth in concentration...
Then, abruptly, her focus is broken by the sound of cursing coming from the trees. She turns her head curiously toward the noise.
Lump jerks her hand out of the catfish hole. Hanging from her hand is a snapping turtle, likely having taken over the hole from its previous owner. Lump gives the turtle a good shake, but the critter clings tenaciously.
"Dadgummit, you ain't even big enough to eat," Lump complains as the muck on her captive arm starts to slough down to the end of it. Before too long the turtle finds itself engulfed in mud and releases its grip as it tries to get away. Lump deposits the sodden creature on a nearby log before sinking down into the marsh, slipping off toward the noise she heard before...
A minute or so later, the girl emerges, dripping, from the bog, about a hundred feet or so from the end of the road. She creeps behind a cypress, her long hair almost blending with the greenery draping from the tree as she peeks around it to observe the situation, her palms pressing into the tree trunk. She's quiet, at first; it's not her way to make herself known in the presence of an angry man like Jeremiah. She doesn't even cry out when the fangs of the cottonmouth that was sitting under the cypress sink into her ankle - mostly because, at first, she doesn't notice.
When she does? She's more annoyed than anything.
"Aw, go on, git!" she hisses at the snake, shaking her leg hard. The creature's grip is easily lost, and it goes sailing through the air to land near Jeremiah. Lump's lips curl into a frown, and she quickly presses up against her hiding spot again.
The Louisiana night was humid, causing that white shirt of his to cling to his body in a horrible way. Even with his sleeves rolled up, it wasn't enough to escape the oppressive, muggy weather. He should have been thankful that his boots were preventing the mud, muck and swamp water from drenching his jeans and soaking his socks, but he was more focused on his getaway vehicle being stuck. He was so focused on this turn of bad fortune that he nearly leapt out of those boots when a snake hit the hood of his truck and hissed right in his face.
He didn't get a lot of warning before the serpent uncoiled and tried to strike at his face, which definitely would have added to his complications. But, as Lump might have noticed, there was more to this man than met the eye. Because a gloved hand encircled itself around the throat of the cottonmouth before it could hit its mark, and moments later the thing was being hurled deep into the swamp, before Jeremiah turned around, steel gray eyes narrowing even as he stroked the unshaven stubble around his jaw and chin.
It only took a moment to grab some things from the passenger seat of that truck, only took him a brief moment to buckle that gunbelt around his waist, and put on his good ol' pair of leather gloves. The hat came last, and that was all the man needed before he started wading his way towards Lump. He looked around, not seeming to see the girl, for now at least.
"Hello, anyone out there? Mind tellin' me why ya saw fit to throw a snake at my truck? That's a little rude, don't ya think?"
The muddy missus bites her lip as the sound of the man wading through the bayou gets closer. She hesitates for a few moments. She could hide, almost certainly; on the other hand, she did just nearly get some stranger bit by a cottonmouth, and she also certainly owes an explanation for that. Finally, a voice that sounds as though it belongs to a teenager from the deep South pipes up from behind the cypress.
"Ain't nobody tried to throw a snake at you, mister. Far as I seen, that snake got up 'n jumped out of that tree over yonder. It didn't bitecha, did it?"
It's enough of an explanation to assuage Lump's own conscience, though it's not necessarily the most (or at all) accurate. The girl sits down with her back against the cypress, her form starting to seemingly melt while she remains unseen; taking on the shape of a thick puddle of goop, the creature starts to pool through the reeds toward the water's surface to try and reposition while remaining unnoticed.
Wading through those awful waters, the headlights of his truck stretched into the distance, giving Jeremiah less and less light the farther along he went. But that was alright with him, he had the moonlight peaking down through leaves and branches, and he still had the stars keeping him situated. His gloved hands were on the sandalwood handles of his guns, ready for anything. But when he heard her voice, instantly his eyes softened and he looked down a minute. He heard where her voice came from, actually she was real damn close, she was behind that tree to the right of him. From the sound of her voice, how old was she? A girl this young, in swamps like these, was she a runaway? Was she homeless? Or were snakes and swampwater just better than the situation she was in back home? If that was the case, then Jeremiah could relate.
And so he approached the tree, turning around and leaning his back comfortably against the long, twisted wood. Snorting, he reached in his pocket to pull out a cigarillo and a beautiful silver lighter, the Virgin Mary emblazoned on the side. And while he was focusing on getting himself comfortable, he spoke with that calm, reasonable voice of his. It was the voice of an older man, a man who'd lived through some pretty heavy things.
"Yeah, maybe you're right, maybe it did just fall outta a tree. And floated half a mile through the air 'till it reached my truck." He couldn't help but smirk as he spoke, but the tone of his voice made it clear that he wasn't angry at her, wasn't upset, not anymore if he ever was. When he spoke next, his voice was softer, with a tone of concern underneath.
"No, it didn't bite me. You have nothing to worry about. What are you doing out here, girl? You know swamps like these are dangerous, hell you know better than me, judging by that Nawlins I hear in your voice."
Formless, the girl flows silently into the fen, slipping behind another tree a few yards distant. A bullfrog hops away with a croak as Lump regains her humanoid shape with her back against the bark, knees pulled up to her chest. Her hands move up to brush her slick hair from her face as she peeks around the side of the tree. Despite her posture, there's not much timidity in her voice as she calls out again to Jeremiah over the creaking of the night insects in the trees.
"Well, I ain't from Nawlins, really," she informs Jeremiah with a drawl. "I've met a whole bunch o' swamp folk while I been down here livin' in the bayou, though, so could be they done rubbed off on me a little."
Clay-like fingers dig into the skin of the tree as she pulls herself up to a standing position so that she's able to circle behind her cover and keep up her game of hide-and-seek longer if need be.
"An' I appreciate your advice, mister, but I done been livin' here for more years'n I can remem'er. Ain't nothin' roun' here what gives me trouble. You might wanna keep an eye out for them gators, though. They bite somethin' fierce."
She spoke again, and now she was somewhere else. Jeremiah looked up, looking around at the direction he heard her next, his eyes instantly going a bit wider. His hands, no longer on his guns, were grabbing the hem of his simple button up shirt, airing it out as he remained sweating and miserable. every so often he'd swat mosquitos out of the sky, but now that the girl mentioned it, he did start looking around at the water. Suddenly, he had more reason for wanting to get his truck out of here. But if there was any fear in the man, it didn't show up in his voice. Blowing smoke into the air, he continued to speak out into the night.
"I'm sure they do. You been living out here by yourself? For years? That's mighty brave of you, hon, that's really impressive. You got a name? Mine is Jeremiah."
He introduced himself, and turning his head to where he thought the girl might be, he lifted his hat and nodded his head, letting his longish brown hair free, and showing the sweat that had collected on the hardened man's face and forehead. Soon the hat was back, and another skeeter is swatted out of the air. He was in a rush, he kept telling himself...but could he let a young girl continue to stay here by herself? He'd killed plenty men, but letting someone die? That felt different, in a way he just couldn't ignore.
One side benefit of the transformative process that Lump has undergone over the years is that the mosquitoes and other bog pests have long since taken to leaving her be. Whatever it is that runs through Lump's veins, the bloodsuckers don't seem to have any want of it. As curiousity gets the better of her wariness, she peers around the edge of the tree she's been hiding behind; in the darkness of the bayou, her features aren't easy to make out beyond her long hair, at first.
"Yes sir, I got a name. Most folks 'round here been takin' to callin' me Lump. It ain't the one I been given, but it's the one I been givin'." The girl seems to think nothing of the perhaps-confusing phrasing. One arm reaches out from behind the tree to point out toward the parked truck. From a distance, the limb doesn't look too out of the ordinary; only dripping with muck. "What's that there? Is that your car?" she asks, some extraordinary sense of wonder in her voice. "I ain't seen one o' them in a real long time." There's a momentary pause, before the obvious is stated. "Looks like you mighta done got it stuck in the mud, there."
"Yeah, I ain't from these parts, someone shoulda told me 'bout these crazy roads."
Jeremiah gave out a chuckle, that cigarillo dwindling down to half its length even as smoke billowed up into the air. Soon, however, the gunfighter looked over at the truck and back at the girl, his face dropping just a little at the muck and sludge covering her. Wasn't no normal girl that was gonna live her life this way, something was wrong and it didn't sit right with the man. Inhaling deeply, Jeremiah looked down at the water with a distasteful grimace before steeling himself, and wading forward as best he could. Instantly he started to feel cold, clammy water trickle in over his boots and he wanted to take out one of those guns and put it to his head, but it was important to build some sort of trust. And, maybe this was the way to do it. He looked up, tentatively holding out his hand towards the girl. Not too quickly, and not too aggressively, either.
"Lump, when's the last time you had something to eat? A hot meal, a place to sleep that wasn't a swamp? If we can get my truck back on the road, maybe we can fix some of that, yeah? What do you say?"
The bog-dweller keeps close to the tree trunk, maintaining some visual cover from Jeremiah as he starts to wade closer. She doesn't reach for the offered hand, though in her mind it's out of politeness as much as anything - or at least, not wanting to startle the stranger with her muddy grip.
"I ain't had a hot meal since I was a kid, far as I can remember, but that's alright. I was tryin' to catch me a catfish when I heard all the hollerin' and singin' over here."
The girl slips behind the tree and down into the water, out of sight. A couple of seconds later, she re-emerges, rising out of the mire right behind Jeremiah.
"An' I'm pretty used to sleepin' in the swamp by now," she continues as bayou water trickles down her slimy skin. "Way I figure, anywhere but the bayou jus' might be too quiet for me to tucker out in. I don't mind tryin' to help you getcher automotive back outta the mud, though."
Lump's facial features are mostly obscured by the tangles of slick and mossy dark hair hanging in front of her visage. What is immediately obvious, though, is that the young woman is not wearing any clothes - though the mud covering her skin seems to be thick enough to maintain at least some sense of propriety where the waist-deep swamp water and hair spilling down her front fail. There doesn't seem to be an inch of visible flesh on the girl, somehow. Further, she doesn't have the emaciated look of one struggling to survive, nor is she shivering as one would expect of a mud-drenched body otherwise exposed to the elements.
There's certainly something... not quite right about her.
The girl sank down and Mr. Graves stepped forward in momentary concern, but that ended when he heard the bubbling and the splashing of water, and the voice of the girl herself. Even ankle-deep in that awful silt and sludge, he was quick with his reflexes, but he wasn't -that- fast, and the surprise was clear on his face. His hands were down lower toward his hips, aiming toward those weapons, but after a moment, he made himself relax as best he could. He exhaled that breath he didn't know he was holding, he straightened his stance, and he lifted his hands up, away from those weapons holstered in his gunbelt. But he wasn't exactly Mr. Cool at the moment, either.
"That's a hell of a look you got goin' on there, Lump. And you got some speed on you. I met fighters that can kick pretty fast, but ain't none of 'em can do what you just did."
Jeremiah looked over at his truck, then back at the girl, taking in all the strange now that she was up close. Things were slowly starting to make sense, even though it all just got a lot more confusing.
"Exactly how long have been livin' in this swamp, girl?"
The girl's head tilts a little to one side at Jeremiah's oment on her appearance, the expression on her face momentarily blank. She looks down at herself, causing her hair to spill further in her face again. One hand moves up to scratch at the back of her neck with muddy fingertips. Flying insects - a fly here, a dragonfly there - land on her skin unnoticed by Lump as she considers the gunslingers words.
"Well, I don't kick real fast. I don't move real quick as a rule, 'cept when I'm in the mud. I don't reckon a lot of folk can do what I just did, though. I ain't quite regular folk anymore."
By now it might be evident that the mud dripping down Lump's skin seems inexhaustible, remaining fresh and wet despite exposure to air and gravity.
"Now, as for your question 'bout how long I been livin' in this swamp..." She holds up a hand and starts to count on her fingers. "Well, if you mean livin' in swamps in general, I ain't sure. I ain't real good at keepin' count of the days anymore. I reckon I could take a guess if I knew what year it was, though."
Jeremiah was backing away as the girl spoke, looking over his shoulder and glancing over at the truck. His demeanor, it seemed, had completely changed. Gone was the cool veneer, gone was the casual lean and the good Samaritan that found himself in this swamp. No, he was rapidly deciding that he was gonna take his chances out there on his own. It seemed that, as tame as this girl was, as nice as she seemed, it seemed that he wasn't really prepared for what he was gonna find.
"It's 2016, ma'am. A lot has been happenin' in the world, and I'm thinkin' it's about time I went ahead and rejoined it. Don't worry about the truck, uhh, I'll get myself another one."
When he got close enough to the 'shore', he quickly ripped his booted feet out of the muck, reaching and grabbing a very thick leather backpack from the bed of the truck at the same time as he high tailed it out of there, walking quickly into the night. He'd find a motel and try and scrub himself clean for the rest of the night, before figuring out just how drunk he could get before forgetting that mud monsters existed.
Sadly for him, he didn't think he was gonna.
Lump is left waist-deep in bog water, still counting on her fingers, as Jeremiah wades away and out of sight. He's been gone for about a minute by the time that she comes to her conclusion - after all, 'rithmetic was never one of Lump's strong suits (though by this point, it's a fair sight better than her writing and reading). Nodding to herself, she cups both hands over her mouth and hollers toward where she last saw the man.
"'Bout eighty years, I reckon!"
A few things start to sink in as her voice echoing in the trees fades from audibility, leaving only the sound of the swamp's nightlife creaking, croaking and chirping in the descending darkness. Fireflies, emerging for the night, illuminate the statue-like figure of the mud-maiden.
The first realisation is that she's been living in the bayou for about eighty years.
The second is that she is, once again, alone.
The third is that there's a newly unclaimed truck sitting in the mud just off the road.
Lump wades through the water to the edge and grabs onto some gnarled roots near the shoreline before shimmying up into the grass. Picking herself up fully to her feet, she approaches the truck apprehensively and peers inside. The keys are still dangling in the ignition and the radio is still playing.
"Oh, they got radios in them things nowadays?" Lump muses to herself, before walking around to inspect the tires. The truck is in pretty deep. It could take a while to get it out of there.
Time is something Lump has plenty of, she thinks, as she kneels down in the mud next to the tires and plunges her hand into the sloppy earth, quietly humming along to the Gaither song coming from the cab...
Log created on 13:06:59 07/12/2016 by Lump, and last modified on 16:39:54 07/13/2016.